New York Today: Swallowing Swords in Brooklyn


Kiri Hochendoner, or “Betty Bloomerz,” at Coney Island.

Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

Updated, 7:26 a.m.

Good morning on this unbecoming Friday.

The Coney Island Circus Sideshow is open for the season.

It’s one of the few remaining sideshows in America, where you can still be dazzled by a fire breather, spooked by a snake charmer or shocked by the human blockhead.

Among the band of performers in Brooklyn is Kiri Hochendoner, a sword swallower known on stage as Betty Bloomerz.

At 5 feet 4 inches tall, Ms. Hochendoner can swallow a 2-foot 4-inch sword.

And it’s not a trick.

“The scariest swords are the ones that stop right behind your heart,” Ms. Hochendoner said. “You can feel the temperature of the metal against that part of your body. It’s very sensory and you experience your organs in a totally different way.”

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There are few professional sword swallowers these days, said Dan Meyer, the president of the Sword Swallowers Association International, which keeps records of the number, training and capabilities of performers. Less than a third of the sword swallowers documented by the association are women.

Performing on stage as many as eight times a day, Ms. Hochendoner slides larger and larger swords down her throat, often letting them drop a few inches before catching them with her teeth, throat and stomach muscles.

To achieve this she tilts her head back and relaxes her throat while suppressing the gag reflex. She navigates the blade down the esophagus, past the epiglottis and into the chest, where it’s separated from her heart by about an eighth of an inch of tissue. From there, the sword is guided past the sternum, through the diaphragm and past the liver and kidneys until it reaches the bottom of her stomach.


The risk, she says, is worth it.

Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

Is it dangerous? You bet.

“Once there was a sword in me and it nicked the back side of my stomach,” Ms. Hochendoner said, calling it her only injury in the decade she has spent swallowing swords.

“Like any loving relationship, you have to listen and ask your body, and sometimes it’s not the right time to go all the way.”

But the risk, Ms. Hochendoner said, is worth it.

“I want an honest reaction,” from the audience, she said, and she usually gets it. “Whether it’s extraordinarily surprised or extraordinarily disgusted or happy. Whatever their reaction is, it’s always extraordinary.”

The Congress of Curious Peoples — a 10-day festival of discussions, lectures and sideshow performances from entertainers across the United…

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